Stop me if you have heard this one before: Alabama will start the college football season as the No. 1 team in the country. The Amway Coaches Poll released its preseason poll today, with defending national champion Alabama taking 61 first-place votes out of a possible 65 votes to lock down the top spot in the preseason poll for a third consecutive season and the fifth time since 2010.
After Alabama, the coaches poll tabs ACC favorite Clemson as the second-best team in the country with three first-place votes, and Big Ten favorite Ohio State checks in at No. 3 with one single first-place vote. It is worth noting the votes for the coaches poll likely were turned in before yesterday’s breaking news regarding Ohio State placing Urban Meyer on administrative leave, although how much that would change the voting is purely a wild guess. Defending SEC champion and national championship runner-up Georgia takes the fourth spot in the preseason poll, followed by Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin, Miami, Penn State, and Auburn.
Of the team appearing in the preseason top 10 of the coaches poll, all but two finished last season ranked in the top 10 in the final coaches poll of the 2017 regular season. Washington ended the regular season ranked No. 12 and Miami was No. 11. The two teams filling those spots in the final coaches poll at the end of the regular season were USC and UCF. It is entirely feasible to suggest the teams that ended last season ranked in the top 10 will once again be worthy of top 10 consideration this season, but we also know how seriously coaches take their poll. It is also entirely possible coaches or other assistants who submit the ballots saw who ended last season well and slapped them in similar positions by default. The coaches don’t take the coaches poll seriously, so why should we?
Preseason polls are nothing but a way to generate conversation and provide content anyway. Once used solely to sell newspapers and magazines, preseason polls are now used to drive website traffic and Twitter engagement. It’s the same routine every year, and that’s OK. Because as much as we may not take these preseason polls as gospel, fans as a whole will still flock to it like flies to pig poop. We know preseason polls stink, yet here we are hovering around it.
Alabama’s No. 1, but what about the OTHER defending national champs?
Once again, if any fanbase should be upset about the preseason coaches poll, it may be the fans of UCF. Already expected to be one of the top Group of Five programs in the country this season despite having a new head coach, the Knights begin the season ranked No. 23, one spot behind perennial Group of Five contender Boise State. Both schools begin the new season well behind Florida State (coming off a 7-6 season and with a new head coach) and Texas (7-6 last season and still facing some questions about improved play this fall). Such is life for a Group of Five program.
No matter how much success they have the previous year, starting out ahead of big-name programs in a preseason poll will always be a difficult obstacle to clear. Part of this is because the respect the Group of Five conferences have compared to the ACC and Big 12. Like it or not, coaches and voters will give a little more benefit of the doubt to a traditional power in a power conference in the preseason polling.
Other observations and general thoughts
As far as the rest of the poll goes, there may not be too many surprises. The top 10 feels pretty legitimate even if you prefer to move a few teams around in the order. Notre Dame ranked No. 11 ahead of Michigan State and Stanford may have a little bit of the Notre Dame slant working in its favor. Jim Harbaugh and Michigan begin the season ranked No. 14, just ahead of USC, TCU, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, and Florida State.
At No. 20, West Virginia may be the team to keep a close eye on. If the Mountaineers open the season with a good win against Tennessee, West Virginia could quickly move their way up the polls as a Big 12 and potential playoff contender. Boise State may actually get an early favor as well by having Oklahoma State begin the season ranked No. 25, thus giving the Broncos an opportunity for a road win against a top 25 program from a power conference in September.
Then again, things could look drastically different once the first week or two of the season have been played. For now, we’re all just taking guesses as to how the season will play out, and the coaches generally have the least awareness about what’s going on around the country on the field. Sure, they may know more football than we’ll ever truly understand, but they don’t have the time or the patience to sit and watch as much as we generally do.
When does the AP Top 25 come out?
The Associated Press will release its preseason Top 25 on Monday, August 20. Expect the top spot to go to Alabama and much of the top 10 to look familiar. By then, we’ll likely have a better outlook for Ohio State with the Meyer situation, so we’ll see if that impacts the voting for that poll.